Israeli fighters divert Continental flight to stop feared terror attack
By israelinsider staff April 11, 2007
Israel scrambled fighter jets to divert an American commercial passenger plane back out to sea and then escorted it till landing Wednesday afternoon at Ben-Gurion International Airport, Israeli officials said. An Airports Authority spokeswoman said Continental Airlines’ Flight 90 with about 300 passengers aboard was intercepted after failing to identify itself upon entering Israeli airspace.
Following established anti-terror procedures, two Israel Air Force F-16s above and two F-15s below intercepted Flight 90 from Newark and forced it back over the Mediterranean until communications were restored.
The Transportation Ministry said it was checking whether there was a technical reason for the initial lack of communication between the plane and Israeli ground control. It was suspected that the pilot did not switch to the correct frequency.
A senior Air Force officer said that the IAF went on high alert due to the suspicious incoming aircraft, the Jerusalem Post reported. He said that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz were updated about the event and IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi as well as IAF chief Maj.-Gen. Elazar Shkedy were placed “online” in case an interception order was needed. “This was the closest we ever came to intercepting a civilian airplane,” the officer said. The implication of an interception was that the plane would have been forced down, or shot down.
According to the officer, the pilotcontacted Ben-Gurion Air Traffic Control from a distance of 200 miles from Israel but then contact was lost. After the plane reached a 40-mile distance from Israel – five-minutes to Tel Aviv – the IAF dispatched its fighter jets.
The plane was allowed to land after radio contact was established.